Budget increases for Indian Country in limbo
A $410 billion budget bill that boosts funding for Indian Country fell victim to a partisan dispute on Thursday.

The House easily passed the Fiscal Year 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act last week, just as President Barack Obama submitted his first budget to Congress. But objections from Republicans led Democrats to put off a final vote in the Senate, leaving funding for dozens of federal agencies at Bush-era levels.

"I wish we could finish this bill," said Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada).

The move came after the Senate rejected an amendment to add another $400 million to Indian health and law enforcement programs.Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) sought to reduce spending in the overall bill to pay for the slight increase.

Democrats, however, objected to the proposal. They said it would have requiring additional work on the bill, which provides nearly $6 billion for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service, an increase of 5.7 percent from current levels.

Combined with increases in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) said the BIA and the IHS will receive nearly $7 billion, a 23 percent increase.

"That is a great deal of money," said Feinstein, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.

In the end, only 26 Senators -- 25 Republicans and one Democrat -- voted for Thune's amendment. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota) was the only Democrat who supported his colleague.

"I am disappointed that the Senate turned a blind eye to the tremendous needs that exist in Indian Country," Thune said after the vote. "At a time when Congress is spending money at a record pace, the inability to address some of the greatest needs in our own country is unacceptable."

Under the bill, the BIA is set to receive $2.1 billion, an increase of $140 million from current levels. But there is one notable cut -- the Indian Land Consolidation Program is being eliminated altogether, something the Bush administration suggested in its final budget.

For the IHS, the bill provides $3.6 billion, an increase of $235 million from current levels. The figure includes $36 million for urban Indian health, a program cut repeatedly during the Bush era.

With the bill in limbo, Congress is moving to pass a continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating at current levels until early next week.

Roll Call:
To provide funding for the Emergency Fund for Indian Safety and Health, with an offset (March 5, 2009)

FY 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act:
H.R.1105 | Text and Explanatory Statement | More Details

FY 2010 Budget:
President's Message | Interior Factsheet | Interior Overview | HHS Factsheet | HHS Overview | More Documents

Related Stories:
Thune seeks more money for tribal law and health (3/4)
Obama sends first federal budget to Congress (2/27)
Omnibus bill includes reservation projects (2/24)